elliot_icon.gif richard4_icon.gif

Scene Title Dissonance
Synopsis Are you the you who made me like this?
Date May 17, 2021

He needs to get it over with. Needs to have gotten it over with, but they’re past the point of no return on that one. The intrusions have been manageable to this point, unpleasant as they are. A quick flicker here or there, tamped down beneath the well-worn bootheel of trauma suppression. Showing on his face only the malignant anger, the revulsion.

Elliot knows, intellectually, that he needs to set this aside if he’s going to survive. Needs to find a way to divorce that handful of shattered psychic trauma confetti from Richard Ray. One Director Cardinal from the other. It happens again, lip curls into a snarl as an uneven pulse of broken memories try to surface. It’s always helped to have someone to point that anger at. Someone who was dead ten years, couldn’t argue back.

Someone Elliot wasn’t going to be trapped in another universe with for an untold duration. If they failed in their mission, trapped until the end of all human life. So again he places the boot on it. Takes a deep breath, tries to get the motion to subside with only middling success. It’ll be gone on its own. Until the next time.

”Picaresque?” Wright asks. Elliot just shakes his head, turns his phone in his hand. Activates the screen, stares at the number again. Official seems better than casual. Less likely to allow himself to get wound up and lash out. He places the call with a sigh.

“Hi, my name is Elliot Hitchens,” he says. Doesn’t include officer or Wolfhound. Less than totally official. “I’d like to schedule a meeting with Richard Ray.”

“He’ll know who I am.”

**Raytech Industries - Office of the CEO **

May 17, 2021

12:39 PM


Richard rose from behind a desk of smooth black glass as the security guard showed him in - and stepped back, not entering the office himself. The view’s incredible from this room, a wall of glass providing an expansive view of the Raytech Campus; concrete angles and planes surrounded by the greenery of life, with glass and metal glinting here and there. Footpaths are traveled by people and SPOT units alike, and some drones buzzed through the air above it all.

The office itself was oddly spartan; a few potted plants that a moment’s examination would show as real and not fake, recessed lighting that was currently off to let the afternoon’s natural light fill the room, and a few chairs in front of the desk. A cat bed tucked behind the desk just in view, and after Eliot enters a small reddish cat peeks around the corner to look to the newcomer.

“Hope you’re not allergic to cats,” the executive chuckles, motioning to the chairs, “Have a seat. What can I do for you?”

The cat wasn’t here last time Elliot saw this office, so his attention is drawn toward it. He gives the cat a stare broken by a slow blink of his eyes before turning toward Richard at the desk. “Not allergic,” he says as he crosses the space to a seat. “Thanks for taking the time to see me.”

He takes a chair at the desk and relaxes into it, lets out a breath that’s not quite a sigh. “If all goes according to plan,” he says, “We’re going to be spending a lot of time together in the near future. I figure that as I’m kind of an outsider in this, I should clear the air of any… misconceptions that have caused me distress during our previous interactions, along with some unprofessional behavior related to said distress. For which I apologize.”

“Granted, some of that was Wright,” he says with a short shrug of his hands. ”Rude!” she says, “But true.” He quirks an eyebrow in a way that could be related to the humor he sees in the event in hindsight. “But I was there for it. Sweden. Might have reacted badly and caused a chain reaction of sorts.”

“I’ve inferred some things, can recall some through the haze of time. But I don’t feel as in the know as our other team members. Missing ages of context, took a lot of years off. So what I’m hoping for,” Elliot says, opening his hands palms-up between them, “Is that we can talk about our unknowingly shared history and then get to a point where you referring to yourself as Director Cardinal doesn’t make me want to cause you grievous bodily injury.” He sends the last off with a laugh as not entirely serious. Maybe just a touch, a bare whisper.

“Because I spent six months in a black site in the Ark having my mind torn to shreds on his orders.” His being The Director Cardinal who isn’t you. “And the cognitive dissonance is becoming a problem for me.”

A real sigh now, then, “That was a lot all at once, sorry.”

“It’s alright. I don’t blame you, he was…” Richard breathes out a heavy sigh as he drops down to sit in the high-backed chair behind the desk, one hand coming up to rub over his face, “Well, I can tell you I didn’t hesitate a fucking second when I killed him, but I imagine that doesn’t help much.”

The cat slowly creeps out of his hiding spot, padding slowly over towards the new person in the chair and daring to sniff at the cuff of his pants.

“If you’ll - humor me for a minute? I don’t want you to think I’m trying to trivialize the horrors you went through, because I’m not, and I don’t ever expect you to forgive what happened there. But if you’ll let me, I’d like to explain what the Institute was, and how it became… what you dealt with.”

He smiles humorlessly, “It’d get you some context, at least.”

Elliot relaxes a tension in his posture that he hadn’t realized he was holding. The first admission does help in a way; just as Eve’s admission to him about killing Elijah Carpenter had helped. In a way. Different scales of culpability. One less monster in the closet.

“I would appreciate that a lot, actually,” he says. He lowers his arm beside the chair, presenting the back of his hand for the cat to get his scent. “I’ve done my reading, and the Ferrymen counsel provided some context after the fact, but so much of that is still a mystery.”

“There’s a lot that… isn’t in the records, and while the Ferrymen were allies of my organization, to say we shared everything would be a stretch,” Richard admits, hand lifting in a ‘what can you do’ motion, “There were a lot of concerns about leaks and traitors back in those days, and to be fair- they weren’t unfounded.”

Wryly, “Also, a lot of the shit that we dealt with, I was never sure anyone else would believe.”

He drops silent for a moment, and then pushes up from his chair, walking slowly over towards the window to look out over the view, hands clasping behind his back. Startled by the sudden movement, the cat freezes, then slinks after him, rubbing on his calf in the way that cats have.

“Down an early turn of the path, the Institute wasn’t as serious a threat at first. There were still a bunch of crazy scientists there, but the Department of Evolved Affairs took them down, and assimilated them into the government. Seeing the danger posed by the current regime, the key agent in the takedown - Richard Cardinal - managed to politic his way into control of the Institute,” he starts his explanation, tone quiet and distant as he looks out over the Campus, “Which proves a good move, as the successor to Praeger as head of the DOEA - Georgia Mayes - begins to crack down on the Evolved. Reproductive restrictions, concentration camps…”

He closes his eyes. “Cardinal thought that he could subvert the Institute’s resources, to make the world better, not worse, but— he couldn’t stop the tide. The conflict kept getting worse, and eventually… the whole world was dragged into it.

“I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise when some technopath got into the nuclear launch systems of the world and started firing.”

Elliot leans back into his seat and crosses his ankle over his knee. He has a memory of a memory of Cardinal, knows he showed up for his interrogation the day he was captured. The wrong body, wrong voice, but right cadence of speech. He remembers talking about it after the fact, but the original memory still exists if he’s comparing Cardinal’s speech to Richard’s. Not stored in the Group Home, then; long lost. Not one of the other annexed wings of the Palace. Though he has no idea where he’d begin looking for its loci, and wouldn’t touch a memory that close to the beginning of Project 0.

“I’m certain no one would believe a lot of what I can remember from back then either,” he says. He certainly would tell anybody most of it either way. “But if the rise of technopathy didn’t bring about immediate global nuclear disarmament I guess nothing will.”

“Humanity’s always been best at self-destruction,” Richard agrees quietly, “So the nukes fell, and— well. There’s a reason we designated that timeline the Wasteland. It’s just all ruins crawling with killer fucking robots, hunting down the Evolved and eating what little remains of the forests and animal population for fuel. It’s… not a good place.”

He’s silent briefly before offering a confession: “I’ve always been prone to obsession. It’s a family trait, I got it from my mother. It can be a good thing sometimes, can help you focus on a problem, but— obsession can lead you down dangerous roads. I keep people around me to make sure I don’t do that.”

“He lost everyone, eventually. They died, or left him and joined the resistance, or believed in him so much that they wouldn’t tell him when he was wrong. And he knew, he knew he could fix all this, so why wasn’t anything working, why did the world keep getting worse despite his best efforts?”

His gaze lifts to the skies, and then he sighs, “Mayes’ people found out, eventually, that he was fighting them in his own way. Smashed the Institute, forced him and his people back to his last base in Alaska.”

“I can imagine how it felt for him. He had all the power he thought he needed, but it wasn’t worth shit in the face of simple… prejudice. Of hate. Somewhere the world had taken a wrong turn and he hadn’t been strong enough to turn the wheel the other way.”

“And he blamed himself, of course. I know, because I would.”

“So,” Elliot begins, then pauses to let the wheel spin a bit more, “He ran the institute, World War Three happened. What made you not do all the same things that he did, in the same way?” Time travel is the obvious answer, though even what data he’s gotten from the DOE on the subject seems to lack any nuance.

“Just a sec, it gets worse,” Richard admits, glancing down to the cat rubbing at his shin and smiling slightly. He crouches down to stroke the reddish feline’s head and ears as he explains, “So he decides to change it all. He’ll build a machine— the Mallett Device— and send a message in a bottle back in time. It’ll wipe everything, go all Back to the Future and all the bad will go away.”

Dryly, he notes, “He didn’t know what we knew about time.”

“Anyway, he doesn’t have the resources to power it. So he…” A breath’s drawn in, “He has his nephew, an electrokinetic, kidnapped and cybernetically modified to power the machine. His nephew’s friends, the next generation, show up to stop him.”

“And Walter Trafford ends up tackling him back to the sixties for— whatever damn reason, I don’t even think the kid knew where he was going. Leaves him there. Now, he didn’t know string theory— split timelines and all— but if there’s one thing he did know is how to change history. It was our specialty, once upon a time. It’s a careful art.”

He straightens from the cat, “So he makes a new life. Starts reaching out quietly to the people he knows will be valuable, builds the Institute early and better. He recruits Broome as his second, starts gathering resources. He’s going to do it right this time. He’s going to make the world better than his. Save all the people he failed, all the people he hurt…”

“Then Samson-fucking-Grey comes along in the seventies and kills him.”

Turning his own nephew into a mad science battery. So off to a terrible start before going back in time. The revelation of the trip back receives more interest than the fact that somebody wanted to kill Cardinal. He seemed, in all regards, a very killable person. It’s Wright who directs Elliot’s attention to a memory.

"Walter?" One hand cups by her mouth when Delilah calls out, "Do you want to g- -"

"Yeah!" Wherever he was, he must have heard Ames' request and popped out from sheltering. Walter pulls Ames back onto her snowboots, buffeting snow off of her hood with his hand. "We're coming!"

Delilah shakes her head with a resigned puff of laughter, tilting a look to the pair beside her. "Sounds like a yes to me, ladies."

Walter Trafford is a time traveler, Elliot thinks. Not sure why it’s such a novel idea to him, maybe just proximity, and the terror that would ensue should Ames develop that kind of ability.

On the outside he nods in understanding that Cardinal was murdered by a serial killer. Shrugs in a way that says, makes sense.

“Unfortunately for everyone involved, Samson liked to keep his victims’ brains in jars afterwards,” Richard says with a grimace, turning to walk back to the desk, “Broome’s left in charge of the Institute, but he doesn’t have Cardinal’s vision or insight so he just sort of keeps the wheels turning, gathers resources and scientists and builds the facilities he knows will be needed to save the world. In the process he ends up picking up a lot of… less-than-ethical sorts, because apparently genius really does go hand in hand with madness.”

“Then they retrieved the brain.”

He drops down into his chair with a heavy sigh, sinking back into it, “They used a combination of a guy named Darren - who could temporarily rewind time on a person or object - and Doc to essentially momentarily bring him back to life and then xerox his brain into a clone body they’d made. They had Tyler on hand to pull his power out and into the new body, I think. They fucked it up, though, and they fucked it up something terrible.”

“Not only did he end up in the wrong body in the middle of the whole kerfuffle,” he grimaces, “The copy was… corrupted, for lack of a better term. Crazy is another way of saying it, and he wasn’t that stable already. Simon had spent decades building the Institute up in his name, basically worshiped the guy, and was willing to do anything he asked.”

“So.” His hands spread, “You have a man that’s blindly desperate to prevent a future where humanity gets ground down into the dust by their own hatred and greed, whose brain just got even more fucked up by a procedure, an organization that’s already starting to form rogue elements due to unethical and prideful scientists spread throughout it, and a leadership that’s slavishly loyal to the crazy guy… and that’s how you get the Commonwealth Institute that you knew.”

He wants to begrudge the departure of some of the hate he’s held onto. But this is why he’s here, separating reflexive emotional reactions from his interactions with a person who isn’t the monster. Generally this kind of endeavor involves compositing two memories to change a perspective on the event, as he did with Wright following the trauma of Eve’s festival. Well, of Agent Castle’s ability, really.

He still needs the other half in order to get what he’s looking for. The other perspective. “What were you up to when the timeline started to diverge? I’m assuming you didn’t politic your way into control of the Institute considering…” he gestures vaguely.

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by…” Richard quotes in dry tones, hands spreading to either side, “…and that has made all the difference.”

“There were— a few things, some of which are a bit too personal to discuss, no offense,” he says, shaking his head, “Probably the most— salient is that when Kershner tried to pull me into her operation I decided to go independent instead. I kept up with my own operation, Redbird Security— half of what became Raytech later on— and worked behind the scenes to deal with the Institute and government both instead.”

“The time travelers helped too, admittedly.”

Elliot doesn't press for personal details. “It’s amazing what you can do with a little future knowledge,” he says, “And violence.” Elliot saw plenty of the latter in the late days of the Ferrymen and the early days of Wolfhound. He smirks when he says it, seeming generally more at ease than when he arrived.

“So, knowing what you do about the intricacies of time travel,” he says as it occurs to him. As though he hadn’t planned to ask. “How elastic is a timeline? If Cardinal’s changes to events didn’t amount to enough to create a divergence until 2011, did his changes still effect the branches of the timeline up to that point? Is there an Ark under Cambridge in the Wasteland that no one ever discovered? That the Ferry never raided? Or in Remote Office’s Branch 2?”

Is there another version of me that went through it there as well?

“That’s not entirely accurate, the timelines diverged the second he was sent back, actually,” Richard shakes his head slightly, hands moving apart as if to indicate a road splitting, “It’s just that by and large events unfolded the same. Not identically. The things he did only affected later divergences, not the earlier ones— so the Wasteland wasn’t affected by him, nor the Flood, the root timeline.”

“Now—” He holds up a hand, “There is a concept called temporal inertia for lack of a better term. Some things are very, very determined to happen. You most often see it when you’re dealing with precognitives, but we’ve observed the phenomenon through the timelines as well. One of those is that there’s always an Ark. The fine details differ, of course.”

Wryly, “And, it seems, always a Director Cardinal. Whether it’s an iteration of me, or it’s my mother.”

“Temporal convergence? Like evolutionary convergence,” Elliot says, “The conditions exist for a type of creature to fill a specific ecological niche, therefore one evolves to take advantage of that opportunity. Like different creatures developing flight after multiple mass extinction events wipe out all of the fliers. Also works with the existing term divergence, which is caused when there’s too much strain on the elasticity of a timeline. Hypothetically.”

But that doesn’t really answer his question. He thinks for a moment before taking another swing at explaining the question. “Forgive me if this one takes a bit for me to lay out in order, and for being new to this in a way other than baseless theoretical musings. What I mean is possibly just a trivial hair-splitting on order of operations, though I feel it’s important for me to know.”

He taps out some ideas with his fingertips. “In the Root timeline, everybody at Coyote Sands is massacred. Much later the world is destroyed in an apocalyptic flood. Hiro Nakamura travels back to Coyote Sands in 1961 with the goal of preventing that. People are now saved who would have died there, the Company is formed, but the abandoned facility that becomes the Ark is never utilized. There is no Old Man Cardinal.” The important part.

“At this point there’s only one branch from the Root timeline. From this divergence, the timeline continues until the Virus kills everyone,” he says, counting out the important parts with one hand. “No Old Man Cardinal, the Ark is still unused. Future knowledge is deployed and this branch diverges away from the Virus into Branch Two, in which Arthur Petrelli takes over the world.”

“Once again, future knowledge is used to try to prevent Petrelli’s rise to power, causing the divergence toward the branch you call the Wasteland. At this point, there is still no Old Man Cardinal who is murdered by Grey, and there is still no functional Ark beneath Cambridge, because Old Man Cardinal is a duplicate of the you from the pre-apocalyptic Bright timeline branch created by its divergence into the Wasteland.”

“So the you that becomes Old Man Cardinal now exists. The ineffectual Institute is taken over by Young Man Cardinal’s politicking, World War Three happens, and there’s a rebellion against him. It’s here that Old Man Cardinal departs from, going all the way back to 1961. He appears at the same time as the Root’s Hiro Nakamura. He starts building the Institute earlier and better alongside the Company, and gets murdered by Samson Grey.”

Then the confusing bit. “Now there are changes accruing in every branch between the Root and here,” he says. “The Ark no longer decays to ruin, it’s under construction and staffed when the virus kills everyone, when Arthur Petrelli takes over the world, and when World War Three starts. But the Ark gets discovered, the atrocities exposed, and in place of World War Three we diverge to get the Second American Civil War,” he says, sounding like he’s winding up for the end of it. “We are here, you are a divergent duplicate of the pre-apocalyptic version of Wasteland’s Young Man Cardinal.”

“So is there now a functional Ark in every branch—one that is identical to the one in ours up until that branch’s point of divergence—that is carried past each divergence into each branch’s prospective apocalypse? Am I a copy of a me who also went through an Ark that didn’t originally exist in the Wasteland until after Old Man Cardinal went back to 1961, but that wasn’t discovered leading up to World War Three?” Who may have survived that war in the Ark.

”Fuck,” Wright says. “This is because I don’t listen to your theories about time travel anymore, isn’t it?” Elliot replies in the affirmative with two quick blinks.

“You’re going to give yourself an existential crisis if you keep thinking about this, just so you know,” is Richard’s somewhat wry observation, the fingers of one hand rubbing at his temple and jaw briefly, “God knows I’ve done it to myself often enough. Sometimes I’m surprised I can still sleep at night.”

“You’re not quite correct, though— the Ark was built in the Root timeline as well. My mother got warning of the flood coming via a precognitive, and built it to survive the flood. She was the director of the Commonwealth Institute there, which was just a shell company to build the Ark itself. Like I said, some things… happen everywhere.”

“I can’t say what happened during the viral-release timeline,” he grimaces, “It’s a mess and trying to get detailed information there is basically hopeless— I’d wager that some form of the Institute and Arcology existed, though, and I’m sure one did during Petrelli’s rise, though, even if it was just a sub-company owned by that megalomaniacal bastard.”

“The Ark did exist in the wasteland, though. ‘Old Man’ Cardinal used it as the Institute headquarters until the government turned on him.”

A violent eruption of light and electrical humming sents the power grid back on-line, though the red emergency lighting at the top of the command intelligence center indicates that the entire facility is on emergency backup power. As the lights flick on in the ceiling, Cardinal's vision blurs into faint after-images, murky haze of illumination clouding his vision.

"We're back online!" Shouts a young woman in a black uniform sitting at a computer terminal. "We're getting ALIA back online…" Projected screens illuminate along the curved, matte-gray walls. Projected flat images of light that show a satellite view of the United States on one screen and Europe on the other. Dozens of red dots litter the east and west coast of the US, with more circles across Europe and Japan.

«Command Intelligence Center online» a voice resonates with a metallic timbre from hidden speakers around the room, a familiar woman's voice. «Satellite systems are reporting sixteen independent strikes on the east coast of the United States. Active targeting systems are offline, power distributions are unequal. I am currently operating on a minimal situational awareness. These images are nine minutes old. No surface video is presently available.»

Automatic doors slide pen to the command center, followed by the emergence of clomping boots and whirring hydraulics as a short woman in sleek black armor marked with an 00-01 strides in, along with three other officers in black uniform similar to the intelligence crew monitoring the computer banks and screens of data and images.

"Richard," comes crackling through the helmet, though with a tap of gloved fingers on one side, the helmet splits down the middle and flips backwards in sheathed segments forming a collar at the back of Claire Bennet's neck. Long, dark hair is bound back into a tight ponytail, her eyes fixed with wide-eyed horror at the screens. "What— the hell is going on?"

His eyes close for a moment as the memories of a man who wasn’t him come rushing back - for once, not in his nightmares - and then he dismisses them with a tight shake of his head back to the darker shadows of his mind.

“Timelines don’t change like you’re thinking, though - they split into new ones. You can’t change what’s already happened. Ezekiel’s early manipulations just created this timeline, and didn’t affect the others. Whatever your alternate self experienced in the wasteland timeline - either of them - it was unique. The way back is closed.”

Elliot is honestly perplexed for a moment. The map he’s built in his head doesn’t fit the cosmology Richard is describing. Something else begins to take shape in its place, he can feel the edges of it. Not a tree, a forest. Still room for free will. He lets it work itself out in the background.

On the face of it he seems relieved. One less thing to worry about. Whatever sad fate the rest of him met—even allowing for tragedies predictable to their respective branches—they are free of this. The constant maintenance, the hypervigilance. The blossoming complexities of the tone of the ring of the phone in the Switchboard.

“I think I understand,” he says, nodding, eyes elsewhere that slowly come back to the room. He fixes Richard with a curious expression, forming memories with purpose. Doing the work. Breaking associations. He organizes everything he knows about Richard and puts them into a line. One that doesn’t connect with the echo of the memory of—

The Hammer.

He suppresses a shiver as the memory bushes close enough for him to remember what it’s tied to. The object fitting in a way he couldn’t have known when they made this mess of his memories to begin with. And while the memory of the cadence of Cardinal looms, it remains separate from his perception of the man who sits across the desk from him.

“This has been illuminating,” he continues. “And helpful.” Frankly honest. “I feel like I owe you something in return. Is there anything you want to know about me before we ride a needle through the binding of this book?”

“You know, speaking of, I probably should write a book at some point to explain this, but honestly, explaining everything I know in words is…” Richard’s nose wrinkles up, “…difficult. I’m sure there’s all kinds of math behind it too which is light-years beyond me. I’ve found that time is more of an art than a science in some ways.”

“The short version is that time travel is more trouble than it’s worth usually, and at best creates a pile of existential questions and no real solutions.”

The high-backed chair he’s sitting in creaks as he leans back, and he starts to say something else when he’s interrupted by the cat leaping up in his lap. A short laugh, and he strokes his fingers over the feline’s head, looking back up to the man across from him.

“I honestly don’t know that much about you at all, Elliot. What do you think I should know about you?”

With the question back to him, Elliot quietly reflects for a moment. He's sure Richard should know, from a team management perspective, far more than he's going to get.

"Grew up in the foster system with Wright until she got adopted out," he offers. "Dropped out of high school and fled the group home as a minor to volunteer after the Bomb. Did some logistical work for the Linderman Group until I got into the Ferrymen based on my experience with the LG. Moved into Intel, which led to the Ark." He shrugs, it is what it is.

"Woke up during the grande finale on Pollepel," he continues, unnerved to be talking about this part out loud. Skipping over the culvert in Cambridge. That memory isn't damaged as badly as he feels it should be, but keeping it quarantined holds back any sudden, public emotional breakdowns. "That's when Wright and my link manifested. Permanent for whatever reason. A lot of my memories from that time didn't age well." It's easier to just lie about it. He's had so much practice, keeping trauma at bay with varying degrees of bad ideas.

"Floated through the Ferry in the early days of the war, eventually settled in Wolfhound," he says. "Retired for a while to support Wright and her family during her wife's pregnancy and the developmental years. Technically it's still those years, but savings were thinning out so I got back into the business."

That seems a fair summary of his life, minus any of the stuff that's generally frowned upon in polite conversation. Minus the things Richard should probably actually know if things get weird in the Root. It would take a tremendous amount of work to admit any of that though, so thoroughly conditioned into obscurity.

"Ames," he adds suddenly. "Wright's daughter." Only technically his daughter. Only biologically. "She's a terrifying miracle and I would tear the world apart for her." Something flutters briefly through his expression, a sudden outpouring of emotion quietly suppressed. He's not sure why he even said it.

“Ah, another survivor of the System,” Richard crooks a wry smile, an eyebrow lifting, “Did you get the nuns? I had to deal with the nuns. Never stayed at a foster home for long, I was always— well, I thought that I was too much for them, but it turns out most of them were fucking Company agents keeping an eye on me.”

He rolls his eyes, “Fucking Charles.”

A bit of a grunt at the mention of the Linderman Group, but he doesn’t otherwise interrupt. Bringing up Ames, though, softens his expression again. “I know that feeling. I have three kids, myself, and… well.”

One hand waves vaguely through the air, “All of this is for them. To make sure they have a better world to grow up in than we did.”

"Secular fosterage for me," Elliot says,"Thank fuck. Though Wright's terrible adoptive family were church goers. Nothing crazy, and honestly I'm surprised they stuck around there considering their dedication to being generally awful."

"But I rarely fostered with anyone for long," he admits. "I was a bit more than most families were qualified to deal with." Feels weird to say special needs as an adult, though he's never been ashamed of it. He just doesn't like drawing attention to how much he's changed.

He looks around the room at Richard's getting, thinking about what he knows of Raytech and its reach. Wonders what he would do with these resources. Other than contingency plans and safe houses. Enough money to make real change.

One day at a time. "I understand what you mean," he says. "Going back to Wolfhound wasn’t only about money. Started seeing things I knew I could change. People I knew were going through insane times and I needed to put a hand on the wheel. Another of the plane crash survivors, actually." No need to touch on the final straw, Avi and the documentation on Project 0.

"Not that I kid myself about the impact of my actions up until now, though the upcoming op feels like my best chance to leave the world better than I found it."

“I know that feeling. I stepped aside for awhile, just worked on growing the company and doing what I could to improve the world, focus on the twins, and then…” Richard grimaces, “Probably should’ve stayed in the game long-term, but after Alaska…”

He shakes his head, “I needed a break from it all too.”

"If you want to build a future," Elliot says, "You need to start with the foundation." He shrugs a bit, Richard surely understands that.

"My capacity was limited but I'm finding better footing. The finders fee you so graciously provided me will serve as some of it. Stabilize the family and work outward from there." He's surprised to find common ground here, though he's not sure why. The desire to protect one's family is generally universal (excepting for people who apparently just drop off children at the local group home).

More associations collected, aligned. He nods again as he takes account. Breathes a bit lighter than he has all day. This man before him really is nothing like the man in the Hammer in the Palace. Elliot can work with this man. And if Richard's Old Yeller directive ever turns out to be sadly necessary, he wouldn't be the first person Elliot shot in the back.

"I'd love to host you for dinner. Your family and Wright's at my townhouse. Children welcome, Ames is always excited to show kids around her favorite things to jump off of when nobody's looking."

“I’d love to, but I apologize in advance for my brood’s rambunctiousness,” Richard actually laughs, shaking his head, “I think it’d be a good idea for Liz and Wright to meet, too, so— well, with you two being the communication tether and all…” That should go without saying.

“And I’m sure Ricky will love Ames, then. Jumping off things? That’s his thing,” he says in the fond, exasperated tone of a parent.

“I’ll put up some chicken wire around anything scalable,” Elliot reassures Richard with a chuckle.

“Wright and I actually worked with Lieutenant Harrison last year after a bizarre incident at the Red Hook Market. We were just off a loaner shift with the PD,” he says, leaving out the macabre nature of the event.

He then continues with a bemused expression as something dawns on him. “In fact, I linked her and a few witnesses into the network in order to build a composite memory of the event. To see if we could notice something in peripheral overlap.” So anyway I linked with your wife seems like a bad way to broach that topic if Richard didn’t already know and thankfully he didn’t mangle the reveal this time. Then he remembers Richard’s connection to others in that link. “Delilah Trafford, Jac Childs. A rabble-rouser for Medina. Fun quirk of the network, I now remember it from all five perspectives simultaneously.”

“I swear, Jac gets herself into more trouble than I did at her age…” A wry observation from Richard, who shakes his head, “That must be a little weird, though, isn’t it? I know that memories that aren’t your own can be…”

He hesitates as he tries to think of the proper phrasing, “…disorienting. Although I suppose you’ve probably had a lot of practice with it.”

Elliot can’t comment on what trouble Jac gets into. At her age he was already—allegedly—doing crime on behalf of Daniel Linderman. And running away from foster care as a minor was probably a crime, though he’s never really cared enough to find out.

As for the rest, Elliot laughs a bit manically. “You could say that,” he admits. “Not all memories form complex composites, generally I’d just keep a memory of the memory, always less clear than the original. Usually there’s a sense of self attached to the memories that’s unique to the one who experienced it. Like sharing sensory information over the network you can tell who’s sitting in on your perspective.”

They’re only disorienting when they’re intrusive memories of trauma, which is difficult to navigate, but there’s no need to add that downside of the network to the conversation. Instead he rustles in his seat, touches the pocket that holds his phone to assure himself it’s there. The little behaviors people associate with the end of a conversation, with leaving, ready to head home and decompress.

He reaches into a pocket to pull out a starkly plain business card to place on the desk, taking a pen to add his personal phone number to the back. “If you and yours are in the mood for dinner let me know when works for you and I’ll coordinate the rest. Also dietary restrictions, if any.” He’s prepared too many large meals to risk alienating a guest over an allergy.

“No, although Ricky’s reached the ‘green things are icky’ stage,” Richard chuckles, pushing himself up to his feet and reaching out to accept the card, “But he’ll eat them anyway, even if his sister has to shame him.”

He flashes a wry smile, “Hope this helped a bit. I know a lot of people have…. strong feelings about that asshole, and I don’t blame them. I’m not him though.”


“Very helpful,” Elliot assures him, and he means it. Despite the emotional fatigue building up to and sustained during this interview. It’ll run in the background, rooms will shift. Memories will remain toxic, but the sting of remembering can be redirected. Richard Ray isn’t the Hammer. Richard Ray didn’t ”Send him to site Zero, see if Carpenter and Zimmerman can make use of him."

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